13th District Vice President
In accordance with the provisions of Article V1, Section 3, of the International Association of Fire Fighters Constitution and By-Laws, I respectfully submit this report of my activity as the 13th District Vice President to General President Harold Schaitberger, General Secretary-Treasurer Thomas H. Miller, the IAFF Executive Board and all officers and delegates in attendance at the 52nd Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio, United States of America. This report contains a summary of my activities from August 2012 through to April 2014. I have attended all Executive Board meetings and carried out all assignments given me by General President Schaitberger.
I was sworn in at the conclusion of the 51st IAFF Convention on July 26, 2012. I attended an orientation session at the IAFF office in Washington the following month and assumed my duties as IAFF District Vice President. I want to acknowledge Brother Bruce Carpenter, who held this position for the previous 14 years. Brother Carpenter was recognized at the 51st Convention by being granted District Vice President-Emeritus status. Bruce offered his assistance to me and in the early days, I utilized Bruce’s experience to help guide me through some of the issues.
During this reporting period, I have also been appointed by the General President to serve on the following committees: Canadian Affairs (Chair), Budget and Finance, Emergency Medical Services, Emergency Disputes Fund, Communications/Media and Public Affairs (Vice Chair), Government and Political Affairs, Grants Administration and HazMat/WMD Training, and Ad Hoc Resolutions (Vice Chair). As well I serve as one of the IAFF DVPs on the Joint Task Force on Servicing with representatives from the Federation of State Provincial Professional Fire Fighters.
I have had the opportunity to travel in each province within my District, which includes Manitoba and Ontario, working in support of the 88 affiliates that make up the 13th District on numerous occasions.
I have also successfully organized three new locals under the IAFF within our District. The Locals of East Gwillimbury (Local 4985) and Blue Mountains (Local 4986) were chartered on January 13, 2014 and Clarence-Rockland (Local 4987) was chartered on March 3, 2014.
I have responded to a wide variety of requests for assistance and servicing. Depending upon the request, the local received the necessary guidance and/or on-site servicing from me directly or a representative of the IAFF through our DFSR, Service Representatives, Committee members, and staff at both our Canadian and Washington offices. In addition to facilitating the above noted services, I have attended numerous educational seminars and conferences sponsored by the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association, where I have always been afforded the opportunity to address the delegates, as well as appoint other representatives to make presentations regarding IAFF programs and initiatives. I have attended various hearings for Locals in Manitoba and will address their provincial biennial Convention on May 27 and 28, 2014. Along with attending these events, I have attended the IAFF ALTS/Human Relations conferences, the Redmond/EMS Symposium, Canadian Legislative Conference, Canadian Policy Conference, and Provincial Presidents meetings.
This term has witnessed a challenging time for all of our locals with an exuberant focus put on our wages, benefits, pensions, and hours of work (24-hour shift). The employers have constructed an organized effort to paint our members as elitists within the working class who are attempting to create a disconnect between the public we serve and us as professional fire fighters. For many, this is the first time in their career they have felt such public scrutiny and political scorn.
Yet despite the best efforts of some, our affiliates for the most part have held their ground. We have experienced some setbacks at the municipal council level, but to date, the relationships with the current provincial governments in both provinces remain strong.
Government officials are not the only ones launching into our profession. With the exception of a few areas, paramedics are in a separate union and view the fire service as a threat. On this issue they work in concert with their respective Chiefs and make a formidable force when dealing with the fire service’s role in EMS responses. Our Fire Chiefs have not been a strong voice in this regard and as a result, we are witnessing the reduction of the fire service’s involvement in EMS across the District. At the IAFF’s 2013 Canadian Policy Conference the delegates made a strong effort to support the role of the fire service in EMS delivery. As a result, the Provincial Presidents, Canadian IAFF DVPs and IAFF Canadian staff — supported by the IAFF’s EMS division — have embarked on an effort to establish a lobby campaign where needed, both provincially and locally, complete with legislative language and public relations materials. Our Winnipeg Local 867 has for many years created a fire/medic model that appears to be a logical fit for our services in this District, with the exception of the areas who currently provide both services, and has proven to provide great service to the public. Despite their success, and having it recognized by their provincial government, the paramedics are continually attacking this system. The local has conducted an aggressive and effective campaign to inform the public about their services as fire/medics with the assistance of the IAFF.
More specifically, here is a brief description to the issues in the respective provinces.
We are experiencing mixed results across this area of the District. Our largest local in the province, Winnipeg, continues to successfully negotiate collective agreements with annual 3% increases and they have addressed threats to brown-out vehicles due to overtime and continue to be a glowing example of how the fire service can play a very effective role within the delivery of EMS.
Elsewhere in the province, it becomes more challenging, with service reductions regarding EMS responses including MVCs despite the advocacy of the paramedics to keep fire’s involvement. Some of our smaller Locals here are facing ongoing attacks through both grievance and interest arbitrations which is putting incredible financial strain on our locals.
Notwithstanding, these locals remain defiant and their solidarity is strengthening during these difficult times.
This fall, we will have municipal elections in which we hope to stem this tide of anti-professional fire fighter attitudes at the municipal council level.
Conversely, in this province our largest local, Toronto, experienced its biggest setback in memory. Council cut four trucks and 84 operation positions in this year’s budget. Despite a valiant fighting back effort supported by the IAFF, council overwhelming support these cuts. These followed previous reductions in their EMS responses.
In an all too familiar tale, locals were reporting threats of cuts from reduction in EMS responses to staff, typically through attrition. I joined Ontario PFFA President Mark McKinnon on a few tours of the province, which is home to 83 of our 88 locals. We heard where municipal council after council was moving forward with EMS response reductions, to staffing reductions, to all-out elimination and moving to a volunteer response.
This common theme is taken from the municipalities’ provincial organization known as the Association of Municipalities of Ontario. Their efforts are very coordinated by repeating the same message that the cost of the fire service is unsustainable, mainly due to our wages and benefits that are being awarded under an arbitration system they claim is broken. The facts dispute their claims, but they are persistent with the message, now saying any increases from any arbitration award will result in service cuts. The most recent cases are in Woodstock, where they reduced both EMS response and staff and in Windsor, where an ongoing battle between the local and the mayor ensues as the mayor is attempting to reduce staff by eliminating a truck from service and redeploying others.
Despite the municipalities’ accusations that the arbitration system is flawed, they are forcing the overwhelming majority of our Locals to arbitration in an effort to continue to point to it and its results as a broken system that needs a political fix.
The IAFF is being widely sought out for its services to assist in these various fighting back campaigns that are no doubt going to continue in the foreseeable future. The provincial affiliate took the lead in the creation of a joint fighting back document with the IAFF. It is a great assessment tool that will guide the local to identify their real threat and allow the IAFF and provincial to better understand what is required from a service perspective.
Unlike Manitoba, which currently enjoys a friendly majority provincial government, in Ontario, we are dealing with a fragile minority government which makes lobbying more a game of keeping what you have. Despite this reality, the Ontario PFFA is on the cusp of expanding its presumptive coverage to include six more cancers (lung, testicular, breast, multiple-myeloma, prostate, and skin).
The current opposition party in Ontario is acting very much like a Tea Party and will follow the lead of many state legislatures in regressive labor laws and attacks on public sector wages, pensions and benefits. A provincial election is expected to be called by the end of May and by the time we reach Convention, we may be dealing with an entirely new level of political attacks.
Another issue that appears to be moving forward under the guise of an economic stimulus is six-story wood construction. Currently a matter on the west coast and nationally, it is also moving forward in Ontario where we will see larger buildings made from wood, creating potentially very large hazards within our communities.
A few years ago we watched from the comfort of our living rooms what was happening to labor, in particular the public sector across the U.S. Now it appears as though unless we do everything we can, we will experience a similar political reality. I hope our members have taken heed to the lessons learned from our brothers and sisters to the south. As a comfort, I believe the IAFF is more prepared than ever to respond to these situations at a provincial or local level.
In closing, I would like to thank all of the affiliates for the support during my initial two years on the Executive Board. Although my learning curve with the IAFF combined with my vision loss has been challenging, it is truly an honour to serve as your Vice President. I would like to thank the staff in Ottawa and Washington for their help, assistance and amazing work ethic. Finally, I would like to thank General President Schaitberger and General Secretary-Treasurer Miller for their leadership and ongoing support of our District.
I wish all the delegates a productive convention and thank the host, Local 48 Cincinnati, for their hospitality at the 52nd IAFF Convention.